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Body Composition Analysis

Body composition analysis is a physical test that measures the proportion of the various components of a person's body. The human body is comprised of water, protein, fat, and minerals — but for most purposes, it is the level of fat compared to lean mass that is of interest. In general, most tests measure the ratio of fat to lean tissue. Body fat, or adipose tissue, has chemical and physical properties that allow for a number of analytical methods, each with its own advantages and limitations. The most common forms of body composition analysis are the body mass index(BMI,) skin fold caliper testing, bioelectrical impedance, and hydrostatic weighing.

The easiest, cheapest, and most common form of body composition analysis is the BMI. Used by fitness centers, doctors, and insurance companies, the BMI attempts to give a picture of body composition by mathematically comparing height to weight, using one of the following formulas:

  • BMI = weight in lbs * 703 / height in inches2

  • BMI = weight in kg / height2 in meters.

Using these formulas, a normal BMI measurement is considered to be between 19 and 21, with a higher number indicating overweight and a lower number indicating underweight. The obvious limitation of the BMI as a measurement is that it fails to take body composition into account, and so it is usually seen as a good estimate for the general population, but can be inaccurate for those with a very athletic build.

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